The expansion of the Marvel universe into the digital world has encouraged my binge-watching habits. Most recently, Netflix has released the 76-year old comic company’s newest series, Daredevil – the digital rendition of the 1964 comic about blind vigilante Matt Murdock, a charming and skilled lawyer living in the crime-infested Hell’s Kitchen (based on a modern day New York City).
In a darker, grittier, and more complex narrative than any other comic-to-TV adaption to date, Daredevil has satisfied nearly, if not all, of my maturing comic-book palates.
Watching the series, edited like a 10-hour-long movie, I felt completely immersed in fading memories of my childhood, when I had read the original Daredevil comics.
Growing up, I was a very anxious child. I was the elder son of a happy family at the time, living the comfortable life of expatriates in West Africa. My sister and I were very close in age, but I was mostly the lonely type, wandering the house in solitude. During my free time, my mind was full with my own personal stories. I‘ve been told that I used to speak to myself, as many children do, immersed in the complex task of building intricate plots that my characters had to solve.
My stories mostly revolved around two motifs: exploring space and planets, and surviving the end of the world.
The survival stories were more frequent because of the permanent fear of an atomic holocaust during the 80s. I would imagine a world with no technology, no food, no breathable air, full of zombie survivors. My mission was to find solutions to survive and, of course, thrive.
I was also megalomaniac in my youth.
I’ve lost count of the times my parents had to come to me in the middle of the night, to calm me from one of my frequent nightmares that the world had ended because of me. And because it was my fault, I had to save what was left of it.
I even think that, later, I became an agronomic engineer because it required the basic skills and science needed to rebuild a civilization – starting by growing food.
But the end of the world could also be the end of the World “as I knew it”. I could be crippled, left without legs or arms. My biggest fear of all was blindness. And the only answer to these fears was training. I trained relentlessly to be able to perform simple or complex tasks with my eyes closed. Because I didn’t want to be ridiculed by my parents or sister, I mostly trained by night, walking around my house, drinking water, looking for objects in absolute darkness.
I had inherited from my uncle a wide collection of Marvel Comics that I was keeping preciously, adding to it one book after the other, weeks after week, from the local bookstore. My favorites were X-Men – because they were different in a world full of dull normal people – and Daredevil, because he was blind.
My mind was blown. Matt Murdock was a seemingly unimpressive blind lawyer who could fearlessly jump from rooftop to rooftop while being attacked by his enemies. So naturally, I – the frail, awkwardly skinny, and asthmatic child who was afraid of heights – was inspired.
The more I read the X-Men, the more I became convinced that if I had a special mutation, it wouldn’t be the kind that came with supernatural powers. The more I read Daredevil, the more I realized the only thing I needed to do was rid myself of fear – the fear of suffocation, the fear of falling, the fear of being injured, the fear of being responsible for the world’s doom. Conquer the fear, become the superhero.
I started my journey to become a hero by learning martial arts. When I turned 12, an American martial art expert from California opened a Tae Kwon Do club two blocks away from our house. It was a sign. Destiny had spoken. As time passed, I grew stronger and more in control of my body. But one of the greatest fears of my life was still present, lingering in each day’s walk home from the studio.
The road home was punctuated by a house with tall, looming gates. A massive and manically barking black dog would press into the metal bars as I passed, desperately trying to get a bite out of me. It terrified 12-year-old me.
In parallel with Tae Kwon Do, I elected to practice knife throwing in my spare time. The problem with knife throwing is that you have to get it back after throwing it. But Daredevil wouldn’t be hindered by such petty obstacles. I invented the perfect weapon by attaching one end of a red coiled cord key ring to my belt, and the other end to a Swiss-army knife. I was genius.
The now-scarred door of my room and my bruised fingers still bitterly remember the hours of training: throwing, pulling, catching the knife on the fly, and throwing again.
After a few months of training, I decided that my education needed to advance to the next level. It was time. One clear night, I waited for my family to fall asleep. I dressed up in a red suit (my pajamas), and hailed for my cat, Charly – a faithful sidekick. Together, we silently crept out of the house.
We lived in a concrete flat-roofed house. Actually, most of the other houses in the neighborhood looked approximately like flat concrete cubes. That night, I went out, grabbed one of the bars of the window grid, and climbed all the way up to the roof. Charly effortlessly followed me in two swift leaps.
Standing on the rooftop, felt invincible. I did not imagine that I could fall. I did not fear the fact that I could barely see anything in the dark of the night. I did not think I could get an asthma crisis. I felt free.
I started walking around the rooftop, looking around, and trying not to stumble on Charly, who was going around me and in-between my legs, apparently very happy I joined him in his playground. I even jumped from the roof of the main house to the top of the garage and back. After half an hour of wandering in my new kingdom, I climbed down and went to bed.
The next day, I was a superhero with a secret identity. Everyone thought I was still the skinny, constantly sick, kid that they knew, but they didn’t know my secret nightly activities. I couldn’t wait to climb again, in my red costume, along with my sidekick. That night, I waited as long as I could in bed, trying futilely to distract myself with a book. Alas, my parents had friends for dinner and, after a while, I fell asleep. I waited a full week to return to the rooftop.
The moment I was back, I got bolder. Maybe because of the frustration of having to wait that long, or maybe just because I was starting to feel more comfortable in my red pajamas, I tried to jump from my roof to the neighbor’s.
I evaluated the distance. It was approximately a two meters jump. But my roof was a bit higher than my neighbor’s. I stepped back, took a deep breath, started running, and jumped. Surprisingly, I landed on my feet on the other side. My cat, on the other hand, was meowing at me from the other side. I left him behind me and started exploring the new territory. I don’t know what way he took, but Charly joined me in my scouting a few minutes later. Taking different ways, I jumped or climbed from a rooftop to a fence, to a wall, to another rooftop.
I just had jumped to the wall of a neighboring house when a huge dark Doberman started shouting at me. I froze. My nemesis had returned. I hadn’t realized which roof I was on – and the house behind me was higher, which meant I couldn’t go back. I looked up at Charly, who was hissing at the dog with his hair standing on edge. I realized that if I stayed here, someone would find me, and my cover would be blown.
After a few seconds of contemplation, I started running. I jumped on the street and ran like hell back to my house. I climbed the gate and walked discretely back to my room. The comforting sound of the A/C unit in my room calmed my nerves. Charly was waiting on my bed and barely looked at me when I slipped next to him.
The next night, I climbed again, but I stayed on my roof. I walked around, jumped in our garden and climbed back, then sat on the eaves and looked at the night. Charly stayed next to me, talking silently, as cats only know how to do.
I climbed again, sometimes jumping to my neighbors’ roof, sometimes staying in my domain, watching the night. But then things began to change in my neighborhood. People swapped their machetes for guns to protect themselves from armed robberies that were happening more frequently. I was not afraid anymore, but I was not stupid either. Being spotted on a wall or a rooftop would have meant being shot on sight by a guard or a house owner. I stopped wandering around.
One day at Tae Kwon Do, I heard one of my peers saying that his mother had spotted a boy with a cat jumping from one roof to the other. I said nothing, but inside, I was thrilled. I had single-handedly become an urban legend.
A few months after I stopped my night watches, I walked back from training, next to the house of the angry Doberman. My heart raced, but instead of running, I faced the dog, stopped just one meter from me, barking and drooling in its own devilish way. I looked at it intensely, pointed my finger, and cried, “Stop, Stay there!” It stopped, surprised and looked at me, breathing heavily.
My heart still racing in my chest, I started walking again. I heard a voice and looked back – a guard was calling him away from the gate. I sighed, smiled and went back home.
Like clockwork, my nightmares began to ebb. My asthma became less and less of a handicap and, as I grew up, I felt more in control of my life than ever.
At the time, in my almost 13-year-old head, I thought that I was not a kid anymore. I was a fearless.
I was Daredevil.